Studies have shown that massage therapy can hold its own as an effective health treatment for many conditions, writes Paula Goodyer.
Healing with massage.
‘Massage therapy stimulates the nervous system to turn down the volume on pain and relieve tension in the body’s tissues.’
Stroll through any large shopping centre and you’ll probably encounter at least one place offering massages.
“Two decades ago, massage therapy was on the hippie fringe, but now it has rocketed into the mainstream,” says Rebecca Barnett, CEO of the Association of Massage Therapists. “There’s more awareness that a massage is not just an indulgence but part of health care, and it’s recognised by health funds.”
Massage is no cure-all, but it can bring short-term relief for many common conditions and types of chronic pain, and help reduce depression and anxiety. Studies have also found that massaging premature or low-weight babies can improve weight gain and reduce their time in hospital. For exercisers, massage can remedy soreness after a workout. And for anyone with cancer, the Cancer Council says there is evidence that massage can alleviate pain, anxiety, depression and nausea.
So how does massage work? “Current science suggests its effects are mainly due to the neurology of touch,” says Barnett. “We’re stimulating the nervous system to hopefully turn down the volume on pain and relieve tension in the body’s tissues.”
Massage also promotes the release of ‘feel good’ chemicals called endorphins, which act to reduce stress and pain, adds Daniel Searle of the Australian Physiotherapy Association. “It increases blood flow to muscles and other soft tissues,” he says. “This can help with healing.” It also speeds up recovery by flushing out waste products that can build up in muscles as a result of injury or exercise, causing swelling and fatigue.
But what about the confusing number of terms used for massage, from Swedish to remedial? In many cases, the techniques are similar, says Barnett, stressing that the bottom line for choosing a massage therapist is to check their qualifications. “If you need help to deal with an injury or pain, the therapist should have a Diploma of Remedial Massage,” she explains. “If you just want a massage for general wellbeing or relaxation, then a Certificate IV in Massage Therapy is fine.”
Searle adds another criterion. “It’s very important that you feel comfortable with the person giving the massage.”
Rebecca Barnett, Association of Massage Therapists